Pioneers of New Zealand Music

RECORDING HISTORY

Blue Smoke's significance is that it marked the real birth of New Zealand's indigenous recording industry.  Before 1935, musicians wanting to record had to perform in a radio or advertising studio, with a mobile unit or go to Australia. No New Zealand recording company existed to manufacture and release recordings. 

Radio Corp's newly built Columbus Recording Studio in Wakefield Street, Wellington, under its new record label TANZA, an acronym stating the Radio Corp's cultural agenda: To Assist New Zealand Artists,  paved the way. The TANZA label gave Ruru Karaitiana an incredible opportunity, which wasn't lost on the artists he assembled to record with him.  Although Ruru was an accomplished dance pianist, he wanted Blue Smoke to have a Hawaiian feel, so he assembled the Karaitiana Quintette to make recording history.  Pictured (left to right) are:  Jimmy Carter on lap-steel guitar, Johnny McNeely on bass and Gerry Hall on rhythm guitar.  Ruru is pictured conducting, with the fifth member of the Quintette, Pixie Williams, absent for this picture. 

 

Source:  Blue Smoke:  The Lost Dawn of New Zealand Popular Music 1918-1964, Chris Bourke.

"When Mike first unpicked the Blue Smoke track (isolating each instrument and Pixie's voice from each other) we were surprised to hear the bass.  We hadn't realised bass was used in the recording as you just couldn't hear it on the 78.  It was a great discovery.  Giving the bass its rightful place on the track is one of the reasons the remastered version sounds so good."    

Tim Fraser, Executive Producer

The Pixie Williams Collection

DIY PRODUCTION

Just Do It

The recording was a true DIY production.  Jimmy Carter, who played the lap-steel guitar introduction to Blue Smoke, made his own five-watt amplifier for the recording, having gone to night school to learn radio technology.  Stan Dallas, Radio technician for TANZA label owners, Radio Corp, hit on the idea to connect Carter's homemade amplifier directly into a mixer rather than recording it through the microphone to get better sound quality - a practice that was adopted by studios internationally.  With little sound-proofing, and a raft of technical problems, given magnetic tapes were yet to be developed, the song had to be performed perfectly from beginning to end.  The slightest glitch at any stage meant a restart.  As a result many takes were required, and masters ruined. 

 

New Zealand's first commercial recording took nine days to capture over five weekends.  It was wearying for the musicians and especially on Pixie Williams' voice who recalled, "It came to a stage when I thought,         Oh heck - I wish it would disappear." 

 

On 3 October, 1948 the perfect 'take' was recorded, and processed on 23 February 1949.   It wasn't until late June 1949 that TANZA was ready to release its first disc.

Source:  Blue Smoke:  The Lost Dawn of New Zealand Popular Music 1918-1964, Chris Bourke.

Photo above:  John Shears, Radio Corporation Technician

"Sometimes, if the recording was near enough, you had to let it go, because after an hour or so  you can't expect the artist to keep singing.  But people were very cooperative, there was no problem getting them to make a record.  We didn't actually say it, but I think everybody realised we were making history.  I don't think any money changed hands.  People would just do it."

Stan Dallas, Radio Corporation

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